How the Jaguars offense will handle latest injuries

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars had been relatively lucky for much of the season in terms of starters staying relatively healthy and not missing games.

Then came Monday night.

Seven starters or key reserves -- including quarterback Trevor Lawrence (right high ankle sprain) -- suffered injuries in an overtime loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Receiver Christian Kirk (core muscle) "will miss some time" and others missed at least one practice or were limited this week.

That means there is a lot of uncertainty around Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns (1 p.m. ET, CBS). It's unclear how many of those injured players will be able to play -- Lawrence will be a game-day decision as he returned to practice Thursday on a limited basis -- so the Jaguars may have to rely on some different faces in their critical matchup against the Browns. That's especially true on offense, where they may not have their starting quarterback and left tackle (Walker Little) in addition to their best receiver (Kirk).

"I think as players you just have to embrace [the replacements] and help them through, showing them how to study, how to prepare mentally more than anything," coach Doug Pederson said. "A lot of these guys, too, have played. So, they know how to play, it's just a matter of embracing them. It's kind of an all-hands-on-deck type of mentality surrounding whoever it might be.

"The goal is you don't want to miss a beat; you just keep clipping along. You've still got to go out and execute and play at a high level. We have total confidence in all the guys that go out there and dress and play."

That starts with backup quarterback C.J. Beathard, who is dealing with a sore left (non-throwing) shoulder. He took all the first-team practice reps on Wednesday and Thursday and, if Lawrence is unable to play, would make his first start since Week 17 of the 2020 season when he was with the San Francisco 49ers.

Beathard is 2-10 as a starter and the last time he won a start was Week 16 in 2020, when he threw three touchdown passes against the Arizona Cardinals. Beathard has thrown for 145 yards with no touchdowns and one interception in 11 games over three seasons with the Jaguars.

"I've been in this position before and I'm sure I'll be in it again at some point, but it is what it is," said Beathard, who completed nine of 10 passes after replacing Lawrence against the Bengals.

"As a backup quarterback, [it's] just kind of how it goes. You got to be ready to go each and every week. [Lawrence's] routine of recovery and getting his body back and right when he is injured is second to none, and that's the credit to the training staff and the strength staff. So he's definitely never counted out. I don't care how bad it looks or how hurt he really is. He's a tough dude."

This is the third time Beathard has taken starter reps in practice in the past two seasons. He did so after Lawrence suffered a toe injury against Detroit last season and after Lawrence suffered a sprained left knee against Indianapolis in Week 6 this season. In each case, Lawrence started the following week -- and he has made 46 consecutive starts, which is tied for the third-longest active streak among quarterbacks.

The Jaguars have not signed another quarterback this week, which is a clear indication that Beathard is fine to play if Lawrence doesn't. The team likely will sign Nathan Rourke from the practice squad to the active roster and make him the emergency quarterback.

"There's a lot of confidence in C.J.," Pederson said. "He definitely commands the huddle. He's smart, he knows our offense. I think the guys really handled it well [when Beathard replaced Lawrence against the Bengals] because we were in a close ballgame [and had an] opportunity to win the football game. He did a nice job getting us down there for the tying field goal.

"He did some good things while he was in there. Still a lot of confidence there and I didn't think the guys waivered one bit."

The job of replacing Kirk -- the Jaguars' leader in receiving yards (787) was placed on injured reserve Friday -- will fall mainly to rookie Parker Washington, who stepped in for Kirk on Monday and caught six passes for 61 yards and a touchdown. However, Washington also fumbled a punt (he recovered it) and ran the wrong route on the play that Lawrence got hurt.

Still, Washington is the team's best option to replace Kirk's production in the slot (where his 595 yards are the second-most in the NFL this season).

"He handled himself pretty well out there," offensive coordinator Press Taylor said. "It helps having Evan [Engram] and Zay [Jones], guys that have had experience in the system and can help you get lined up and move around a little bit, but Parker did a good job for himself."

On Friday, Pederson said Little is expected to be out against the Browns because of a hamstring injury he suffered against the Bengals. He already was replacing starter Cam Robinson, who is on injured reserve with a knee injury, so the Jaguars could be on their third left tackle.

Third-year player Blake Hance replaced Little against the Bengals, and Taylor said Hance and starting left guard Ezra Cleveland are candidates to start on Sunday if Little is out. Cleveland, whom the Jaguars acquired from the Minnesota Vikings for a sixth-round pick at the trade deadline, played left tackle in college at Boise State.

Nickelback Tre Herndon (concussion) and backup tight end Brenton Strange (foot) will also be out for Sunday's game.

The Jaguars (8-4) have a one-game lead over the Houston Texans (7-5) and Indianapolis Colts (7-5) in the AFC South and play host to Baltimore (9-3) on Dec. 17. The Jaguars currently have the fourth seed in the AFC but have a tougher remaining schedule (24th toughest) -- the Browns and Ravens rank first and second, respectively, in the NFL in total defense -- than the Texans (30th toughest) and Colts (27th toughest).

"We can't worry about what's behind us," Lawrence said. "It doesn't matter what's behind us. We've just got to focus on the team we're playing this week.

"We can't worry about Houston or Indy or whoever is behind us. If we take care of business, we're going to be fine. ... We still control our own destiny, but we can't worry about teams from behind us. That adds pressure, that adds anxiety, you just worry about playing one week at a time."